Filling in a space with split back stitch

Updated: Apr 15

Split back stitch, although typically used to follow lines and curves, can also be used to fill in all sorts of shapes in hand embroidery. I like using this technique to fill in a space when I'm looking for a more textural feel to my work. I also find that it's a bit more forgiving than something like satin stitch, meaning that my "mistakes" are both easier to fix and harder to notice on a final product.


Photo of an embroidery hoop with circles and rectangles filled in shades of blue on a mustard linen fabric.
These shapes have all been filled with split back stitch!

For today's tutorial on how to fill in a space using split back stitch, I've provided instructions in written, photo, and video format. The tutorial is broken down into two sections: basic concepts, and working with curves. If video tutorials are easier to follow, feel free to jump ahead to the end of this post (or watch it directly on my YouTube channel).


If you're brand new to embroidery, or to this stitch specifically, consider reviewing my tutorial on how to follow lines and curves using split back stitch.


Filling in a shape with split back stitch: Basic concepts


To demonstrate the basics of this technique, I'll be filling in a simple rectangular shape using split back stitch. This technique is so super simple that you really don't need to practice with a shape like this, unless of course you could use the confidence boost!


Step 1: Start by creating a line of split back stitch.


In the photo below, you'll see I've created a single line of split back stitch at the top of my shape.



Step 2: Create a second line of split back stitch just under your initial line of stitching.


Try to get your needle as close to that initial line of stitching as you can, without piercing the floss from your initial line of stitching.



Continue stitching until you've reached the end of your second line.



Step 3: Continue adding lines of stitching until you've filled in your entire shape.


In the photo below, you can see what my shape looks like about halfway through the process.



And in this last photo, you can see what my shape looks like once I've finished. Pretty pretty simple, right?



Filling in a shape with split back stitch: Working with curves


Filling in a simple rectangle is simple enough, but what if your shape has curves and you'd like to maintain that shape as you fill in the space? Below, I'll demonstrate how to do this by filling in a small circle.


Step 1: Use split back stitch to outline your shape.


As a reminder, make sure to keep your stitches closer together when following tighter curves. In the photos below, you'll see that my stitches are a bit shorter than the stitches I used to fill in my rectangle; I did this to better follow the curves of my circle shape.



When you reach the end of your line of stitching, you get to make a choice: will you fill in this shape with one long continuous line of stitching (as I do in the video at the end of this post), or will you fill it in using separate lines of stitching (as I did with the rectangle above)?



There's no "right" or "wrong" choice here; rather, it's all about personal preference and project-specific needs. Personally, I prefer to fill in smaller shapes using one long continuous line of stitching (which I demonstrate in the video tutorial), and larger shapes using separate lines of stitching (which I'll show you how to do below!).


To finish this first line of stitching on you circle so there's no gap in between the beginning and end, bring your needle up through the split portion of your first stitch.



When you bring your needle back down, split your last stitch as you would do in a normal line of split back stitch.



Once more, bring your needle up through the split portion of your first stitch.



Finally, bring your needle back down, splitting your last stitch in half, and finishing your first line of stitching.



Step 2: Consider creating guidelines for yourself to help create a more even fill to your shape.


This is technically an optional step - but if you're filling in a larger curved shape with single lines of stitching, and you'd like to better maintain the shape as you fill it in, I would recommend doing this!


In the photo below, I'm using a water-erasable transfer pen to draw a guideline for myself, which I'll stitch before moving onto my next step.



Step 3: Continue filling in your shape with lines of split back stitch.


Now that I have two guidelines stitched, I'll use the same technique I used to fill in my rectangle to fill in the rest of my circle shape.



Here's what my shape looks like as I begin to make progress filling in the space between the inner and outer lines of stitching that I completed in previous steps.



In the photos below, you can see that I've reached the center of my shape, which can only fit one last single split back stitch.



Try not to worry too much about the direction of this last stitch, as it'll look "right" no matter the direction - I promise!



And in the photo below, you'll see I've finished filling in my shape!



Video tutorial for how to fill in a space with split back stitch


I find video tutorials to be a bit easier to follow than written and photo instructions, which is why I always like to provide them on these posts! You can watch the video tutorial below, or directly on my YouTube channel.



I hope this was useful, and I can't wait to see what you make - whether you create something from one of my kits or patterns, or from a design of your very own! If you'd like to share your work with me, you can always tag me on your social media accounts (@hopebroidery on Instagram and Twitter, @hope.broidery on TikTok). If you don't have public social accounts, but still want to share, consider emailing me a few pictures (hope@hopebroidery.com), I would love the chance to tell you how much I love your work!


Happy stitching!